Damon Benson is a 17-year-old finishing out his senior year at Eagle’s Landing High School in McDonough, Georgia who took time during the summer to complete an intensive eight-week aviation program rather than hang out with friends.
Completing the program, Benson earned his private pilot’s license.
Benson attended a summer flight academy at Delaware State University. The JROTC program is normally run by the Airforce, yet this was the first year that the Navy participated.
Other participants in the program worked on their applications and had to have them turned in the November prior for consideration of the summer course. Benson was presented with the opportunity by chance.
He reached out to Morehouse College and asked for advice on how to better his chances at being accepted into the NROTC program next fall. He was put in contact with Carlos Nelson, who let him know two weeks before the flight academy began that there was a slot available and that the Navy would pay his way.
“I had never heard of [anything] like this,” Benson said. “I’m 17, it was crazy. I was like ‘Tell me what I have to do, and I’ll make sure I’ll get it done’.”
The next day, Benson was admitted into the aviation school. Although he was excited to participate, it was a challenge to get all of the proper paperwork in on-time. He also had to have a flight medical done, which can be conducted only by specialized doctors.
“Everybody that flies, airline pilots, everybody that flies, has to go through those same doctors,” Benson said. “So the schedule for those [get] backed up.”
Once he made it to Delaware State University, Benson was met with 16-hour long days filled with instruction and flying time.
“I would wake up at 6:30, and then we had to be to breakfast by 7 o’clock, and by 8 o’clock we had to be at the flight line, ready to fly,” Benson said.
Before joining the summer program, Benson did not have prior flight experience. He was nervous his first time flying, but had a natural talent that surprised his instructor with the help of a video game.
He noticed that the controls and maneuvers in the Vulcaneer V.10 and Grand Theft Auto (GTA) were similar.
“It’s funny because playing GTA and flying, I wouldn’t say it’s exactly the same. It was kind of applicable to flying in person,” Benson said.
The participants spent their time learning and studying Monday through Saturday, with Sunday being a day off to rest. On the day for rest, Benson spent his Sundays studying so he wouldn’t fall behind.
Benson was among the youngest out of the group and one of the few without any experience in aviation, but was the first out of the six who went into the program on behalf of the Navy to graduate.
Now, back in high-school as a licensed private pilot, Benson focuses on working at Chick-fil-a to fund flying time and college applications for next year.
His top choice is Morehouse and he plans on applying to Savannah State University, Clark Atlanta University and Southern University. After college, Benson plans on commissioning into the Navy as an officer before going into aviation to fly either a F-35, F/A-18 Hornet or P-8 Poseidon.